Where PLCs Go, So Goes Manufacturing

Aug. 7, 2013
While growth in Asia is slowing, indicators say that it is going nowhere but up. One study says that by 2016, Asia will become the largest consumer of PLCs in the world. How might that affect U.S. manufacturing re-shoring efforts?

Choosing to purchase new programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or programmable automation controllers can be sign that manufacturing is recovering. While stagnation, debt crisis, an aging society, and engineering shortages in Europe are creating structural problems, emerging Asia will recover more quickly to become the largest PLC market from 2016 onwards. This is according to a study by analyst firm ARC.

"The current problems are mostly of a cyclical nature, and long-term indicators point nowhere but up. Still, the times of prolonged double-digit growth will not return," says analyst Florian Güldner, the principal author of  “PLC and PLC-based PAC Global Market Research Study.”

This development is being driven by demand in China and the emerging Asian market, which will continue to grow at above average rates, says Güldner. China, Korea, and Taiwan have now established themselves as part of the global machinery market, along with Japan. These markets will also shift towards more high-end automation in the forecast period, developing more sophisticated machinery for export, he says.

“Manufacturing Renaissance, Industry 4.0, and re-shoring are trends that describe the future return of manufacturing in developed markets. However, future development will prove whether this is wishful thinking or if manufacturing and automation will re-emerge in developed nations,” says Güldner.

Re-shoring describes the process by which manufacturing returns to developed nations, which had previously outsourced and off-shored manufacturing to countries with lower wages, such as Eastern Europe and emerging Asia. In some areas, ARC sees this trend bearing large potential, especially when it comes to industries that need to react quickly to changing consumer preferences.

“The re-shored industries will automate larger parts of production to counteract the wage-structure in developed countries. In the long run, we expect this to have a slight positive impact on market development,” says Güldner.

The increased degree of automation in re-shored markets will demand PLCs that support information-driven manufacturing, linking the plant floor to MES and ERP layers and—in some cases—directly to the consumer. In addition, PLCs need to handle large amounts of data, feeding them back to higher-level systems. The results are self-optimizing cyber-physical systems and modular plants and factories.

Güldner says, “PLCs are now integrating safety and cyber security, but in future will also need to integrated energy management, analytics, and other functions.”

A manufacturing renaissance is driven by the need to react to consumer demand. "The largest volume of consumers is still in Europe, Japan, and North America. However, the increasing wealth in emerging economies and the rising urban middle class lowers the incentives to shift manufacturing back as long as transportation costs and time are manageable. In ARC’s view, this development will further push the PLC to emerging Asia," says Güldner.

Looking for PLCS?Faced with an array of control platform options for discrete manufacturing—including PLCs, PACs and PCs—how can end users decide which technology is most suitable? Automation World’s June 2013 feature can help.  http://www.automationworld.com/control/evaluating-control-platform-choice

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